Contractor acquitted of stealing from Anne Arundel clients

License was suspended after clients took complaints to state officials

May 18, 2011|By Andrea F. Siegel, The Baltimore Sun

A contractor accused of stealing from clients was acquitted of two counts of theft scheme Wednesday, after an Anne Arundel County judge said the cases turned on civil, not criminal, law, and that criminal penalties wouldn't apply.

Gregory L. Haigis, 51, of Arnold was found not guilty by Judge Laura S. Kiessling in a nonjury trial that began Monday. Prosecutors dropped three other charges in April. Clients claimed Haigis took money for work that was not completed, asked them for more money and did a shoddy job.

"The judge indicated these cases were controlled by contract law," said David P. Putzi, Haigis' attorney. Appellate courts, he said, have been hesitant to apply criminal penalties to claims that contracts have been breached. Prosecutors did not prove that Haigis intended to steal, he said.

Angry former clients pressed Anne Arundel prosecutors for the criminal charges, which came late last year: Haigis was indicted in December on five counts of carrying out theft schemes on several remodeling projects.

Overall, more than a dozen clients banded together against Haigis and his business associate, Robert S. Huff, complaining that they collectively were out nearly $1 million stemming from shoddy work and stop-work orders that left their projects in disarray.

No criminal charges were filed against Huff. The men's home improvement licenses have been suspended by state officials. Terry Berg and her husband, Randy Johnson, of Edgewater, who were clients of Haigis but whose complaints did not lead to criminal charges, have also turned their attention to seeking stronger consumer protections.

In a prepared statement, prosecutors said that they knew going into the case that appellate opinions could be a "difficult hurdle for the state to overcome."

"I figured that was going to happen. It's very hard to prove intent," said Earle Grey, a homeowner whose complaint was part of the criminal case against Haigis. Grey said he paid $100,000 toward an addition to his Pasadena home and received what amounted to little beyond a foundation and framing. He fired Haigis in 2008.

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